Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Aubrey/Maturin - Patrick O'Brian

Feeling a bit glum? Life a bit stressful lately? Then let me introduce your cure - the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O'Brian. Numbering something like 20 novels, while I've only read two (so far) they've been a great introduction to what promises to be a fun naval adventure series. I've so far spent most of my reading time looking like this:

If this sounds like it might float your boat, read on for my review of each...

Master & Commander - 4 stars 

(read Oct '12) 

A boisterous adventure set during the Napoleonic Wars in which our protagonist Captain Jack Aubrey dashes up and down the Med in the sloop The Sophie taking 'prizes' (basically, being a pirate with his Madge's blessing), ranting about papists, playing violin, getting roaring drunk, yelling indecorous things at posh parties and cuckolding his betters.

I know nothing about sailing other than that it's done in boats, on water, and so whole sections were rendered completely incomprehensible, but I couldn't help finding it all wildly enjoyable. This was all down to the style employed and the characters - particularly Jack and his BFF Dr Stephen Maturin who, despite the constant book obsession with denouncing buggery, gave me immense slashy fun. I also got a few unexpected prods back into the reality of things back then via a crew made up of young boys and pressed men along with the odd officer, dodgy medical treatments and questionable hygiene (need to cut up your roast beef, Doctor? Just wipe off the scalpel you used to dissect a dolphin), and what it might have been like on deck of a boat engaged in a battle.

Post Captain - 4 stars

(read May '13)
"There she is, sir, just under the sprits'l yard. Tops'ls: maybe mizen t'garns'ls. Close-hauled, I take it."

Me too, dude. But once again it really doesn't matter, and this is as ruddy good fun as its predecessor. 

Spending the first third of the book on land, the 'Jane Austen for blokes' tag has never fit more as Jack and Stephen become entangled in a love triangle (or rather, quadrangle) by the grasping Mrs Williams attempts to find husbands for her girls (personally, I still think the only people they should be considering settling down with are each other - and if Stephen wants me to stop imagining smutty happenings between them then he really needs to stop calling Jack 'my dear'.)  

Needing to escape his debtors Jack needs a ship, any ship, and is grudgingly given the Polychrest, a dog of a boat with the strange habit of going backwards when her sailors want her going forwards, as well as having a constantly shitfaced ape on board. Other highlights include Jack saving a sailor from a shark, which he's rather blase about (does it all the time, apparently), Stephen hitting the laudanum when his friendship with Jack is tested, and the bringing on board of thousands of bees.

By the time we reached Plymouth (which I take as a personal shout-out) I didn't think my smile could have been any broader, but having just cheered a mate on in the marathon taking place on "that sparse barren dismal grass-plat they call the Hoe", when Stephen "looked out of the cabin at the water of the Sound, oily, with the nameless filth of Plymouth floating on it" I was tickled pink by his assessment of my hometown:
"So much wretchedness, misery and squalor I do not believe I have ever seen collected together in one place, as in this town of Plymouth. All the naval ports I have visited have been cold smelly blackguardly places, but for pox-upon-pox this Plymouth bears the bell. Yet the suburb or parasite they call Dock goes even beyond Plymouth, as Sodom outran Gomorrah." 

I've never been so proud...


  1. Great. I tried master and commander but was completely foxed by the language. Your description has made me want to pick it up again. The bit on Plymouth brilliant. The Plymouth crap for sale guy would have loved it. Lou ps still not worked out how to post properly.

    1. I can see how it might have flummoxed you - the sailing stuff all went completely over my head too. I guess I just loved the rest of it so much it didn't matter!

      And Stephen Maturin should have definitely written for Plymouth Crap For Sale.

      I think you can register with google, or with blogger or some such but not sure...

  2. Do you have any other recommendations for what to read AFTER tearing through the O'Brian series? I've read some of the Hornblower books, and someone mentioned the Richard Woodman series to me as a good follow-up, but good naval historical fiction can be hard to come by!

    1. I'm afraid I don't - this is the only naval historical fiction I've read to date so if you do find any good ones, let me know for when I've torn through this series!

      I have read a good naval fantasy series - The Bingtown Traders series by Robin Hobb - but this might not be your required flavour (what with all the added fantasy elements)

      Good luck in your search!

    2. Hobb's name keeps popping up in unexpected places! I think its a to the bookstore I go.

    3. Yay! Let me know what you think.